A Little Solstice Solace

Perhaps it’s just me, but 2021 has felt like a serious test of our endurance both in general and as gardeners. We started the year in strict lockdown, having had our Christmas plans curtailed at the eleventh hour. Now it seems not impossible that 2022 might begin the same way. At times we have allowed ourselves to imagine that the end of our troubles might be in sight, remarking that things feel almost back to normal, only for Covid 19 to produce a new, more virulent variant. Is this turbulent ‘should we? shouldn’t we?’, ‘can we? can’t we?’ scenario the new normal? Heaven forbid.

Spring was long and cold, eventually giving way to a lacklustre summer. Tender plants and precious seedlings had to wait in the wings until June before they were safe to take centre stage. Some plants prospered in cooler conditions, others dragged their feet. I spent weeks and then months telling myself that a warm spell was just around the corner, but it never came. I missed the abundant sunshine hours that 2020 blessed us with. On the allotment, tomatoes were blighted and courgettes never found their mojo, yet we enjoyed a fine crop of rhubarb beans, potatoes, raspberries and cucumbers. A balmy autumn partially compensated for the earlier chills, endearing the season to me in a new way. The mellow months of September and October created the perfect environment for our dahlias and chrysanthemums to flourish. November was suspiciously calm, morphing peacefully into a typically moribund December. Monty Don sums the current month up brilliantly:

December is a dismal month for gardeners. If any of the shards of autumn still cling at its outset, they are all discarded by the end. There are leaves to gather and perhaps trees, and hedges to plant but truculent weather, the shortness of the days means that in truth little is asked of the gardener – and very little given back.

I’ve been reflecting on Monty’s words over the last couple of days and conclude that it’s just as well December isn’t a more generous month. We are all, by varying degrees, tired, preoccupied and weighed down by the baggage we’ve accumulated over the last eleven months. We are too jaded to do much other than stumble happily half-conscious towards Christmas and New Year. This month the Beau and I have tried to muster sufficient time and enthusiasm to clear the allotment, plant any remaining tulip bulbs and tidy our workshop. Finding the energy has not been easy and we haven’t gained much satisfaction from our labours. It’s better, I think, to accept that December is a month that has plans for us, and not vice versa. Go with the flow, embrace it or endure it, but don’t fight against it – you will not win. Take control of your life and your garden again in January when the festivities are over and a new start can be made.

Hence today, on the shortest day of the year, we should give ourselves and each other a little pat on the back for having made it this far through a turbulent and troublesome year. Pour a drink, snuggle up, be kind to yourself and coast through the rest of the year as lazily and effortlessly as you can. At no other time do our gardens need us less and our family and friends need us more. Those dirty pots, muddled seed packets, random bulbs and unpruned roses will seem a lot less of a challenge in two weeks’ time. TFG.